Clown Funeral is still a very young company emerging from the West Midlands five years ago. Mr Poe’s Legendarium was their first show in Edinburgh in 2015 and joins The Murderer and Things We Chose To Save on their You Tube channel. Although somewhat more underdeveloped than these two shows, this, their debut, gives some hints of what was to come and provides an interesting glance of this first stepping stone.
The main narrator is Edgar Allan Poe, famed writer of American Gothic fiction and poetry, who is joined onstage by Sigmund Freud. Poe tells three tales and Freud makes a perfunctory attempt to analyse them. The first tale is about vanity and impatience as a rich lady commands a wig maker to get a new hairpiece ready for her in less than a day; she gets more than she bargained for. In the second story a séance goes wrong and themes develop which are more typical of Poe’s work. The final tale is a thwarted love story which centres on the effects of ignoring instructions in a chain letter.
Now if you’re struggling to recall the originals of these stories then please, unlike me who embarked on some research, save your time. For apparently Poe never wrote such stories; they have come from the devising process of the group and are in homage to Poe rather than by him. This probably began to dawn on me when too much seemed to be being played for laughs (not Poe’s strong suit) and the fact that chain letters were not, I don’t think, a thing in nineteenth century America. To be honest I felt a little cheated as other than supposedly being by the same author (which they aren’t) there is no stylistic continuity. As they are not a patch on the author’s own stories I do wonder if the group might have done better to dramatize some of these rather than going to the bother of inventing their own. The middle story seems to be the most attuned to the Poe vibe containing the sort of characters of which he might have conceived. Poe’s strong suit was never dialogue and much of the author’s work relies for its effect on doom laden passages of description. Clown Funeral were not able to adequately reference these in their narrative passages and any sense of sitting on the edge of one’s seat was completely negated.
I also was slightly perplexed by the intervening digressions from Sigmund Freud. Poe and his original stories would, undoubtedly, be ripe subjects for psychoanalysis but this proves to be another opportunity missed. All that happens is that the discussion between Poe and Freud provides a point of transition between the stories and, as this didn’t add anything, could easily have been dispensed with. In any case, and without wishing to be overly literal, Poe and Freud were never contemporaries.
The show has all the hallmarks of an early foray into the festival arena being perhaps a little bit too pleased with itself in terms of delivering art on a shoestring. There is a decent enough attempt to costume the stories with a particularly impressive wig; all other aspects are pared right back. The six performers deliver the material well enough, but the results are uneven; it is clear that some of the team are better than others at holding an audience’s attention. Although probably never filmed with public exposure in mind the camera work leaves a lot to be desired. Quality is low and is not helped by framing being inconsistent, focus often lost and any panning being jerky. My firm advice to potential viewers is to watch the same team’s The Murderer as it is infinitely more rewarding and won’t leave you with a possible bout of motion sickness.
Mr Poe’s Legendarium is available via You Tube. Click here
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